Hundreds of Whatcom residents could get past marijuana conviction wiped from record

It’s possible that nearly 700 people in Whatcom County are eligible to get their past marijuana convictions removed from their records.

A new Washington state bill that took effect July 28 allows people who have misdemeanor and gross misdemeanor marijuana convictions to vacate them. The court that the person was sentenced in has to vacate the conviction regardless of whether the person has committed another crime since their conviction or have had another conviction vacated, according to a legislative analysis of the bill.

The bill requires that the person convicted be 21 or older at the time the offense occurred. Washington state legalized recreational marijuana for adults 21 and up in 2012.

Once a person’s conviction is vacated, it’s no longer part of their criminal history, meaning that in response to housing and employment applications, they can state they were never convicted of that crime, the analysis states. It also isn’t included in calculating a person’s “offender score” if they are convicted of another crime.

According to data provided by Whatcom County District court and city municipal courts, there are around 670 cases involving a misdemeanor or gross misdemeanor marijuana conviction from roughly the past decade. It was unclear from the data whether all of the defendant’s in those cases were 21 at the time of the offenses. It’s also unclear how many of the cases involve the same person.

So far, no one in Whatcom County has applied to vacate their conviction, according to clerks with each of the courts. Whatcom County District Court has the most convictions, with 431, followed by Bellingham Municipal Court with 185, according to the data provided. Lynden and Blaine had 29 and 10, respectively, while Ferndale and Everson had eight and four respectively.

More than 68,000 people in Washington have misdemeanor marijuana convictions on their records and are eligible to have those convictions vacated, according to Washington State Patrol and Crosscut.

Bellingham Municipal Court is in the process of editing its website to include instructions for those who are interested in vacating their convictions, according to Darlene Peterson, court administrator for Bellingham Municipal Court.

In the meantime, people can also pick up packets of information with sample forms at the court, or they can have the form and information mailed to them, Peterson said.

Here’s how a person can apply to have their conviction vacated:

If the person was 21 or older at the time of the offense and appears at their court hearing, the judge must grant the request to vacate the conviction.

Reporter Denver Pratt joined The Bellingham Herald in 2017 and covers courts and criminal and social justice. She has worked in Montana, Florida and Virginia.